A final week of preparation awaits the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender before the regular season opener.
Ask Ilya Samsonov about his status as the team’s starting netminder, however, and he will tell you that it’s not top of mind.
“I don’t think about this too much,” the always personable Samsonov said. “I remember a time when I was thinking about this in Washington (when he was with the Capitals), and it was not good for me.
“I just focus on my game and my small details and how I feel in the net. This is more important for me right now.”
Samsonov’s workload during the pre-season schedule has been light, as he has played in only one of the Leafs’ five games, facing a mere 17 shots on goal.
With the Leafs mercifully down to just three remaining pre-season games, the betting is we will see Samsonov start in two of them. First up are the Montreal Canadiens, who visit Scotiabank Arena on Monday night after the Leafs won both matches against their historic rivals at the Bell Centre on the weekend.
Games against the Detroit Red Wings — in Toronto on Thursday and in Detroit on Saturday — conclude the Leafs’ exhibition slate.
As he did earlier in camp, Samsonov stressed again on Saturday that there are no ill feelings on his part from going to arbitration with the Leafs in July. Samsonov’s outlook is such that what can be an unsettling process quickly became a non-issue after he was awarded a one-year, $3.55 million US contract.
“I feel really good physically,” Samsonov said. “I want to get better before the season. Still have time.
“I think every goalie feels right now a little bit ugly (in getting the kinks out). You don’t need to stress too much. Just keep rolling, repeat every day.”
Martin Jones is loath to peer too far into the future, knowing that the next time he plays in a regular-season game, it might not be with the Leafs.
The veteran goalie has been terrific in three pre-season games, allowing four goals on 66 shots for a .939 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average. That, plus his experience in the National Hockey League, will make him attractive on the waiver wire as the Leafs are not expected to carry three goalies. No matter how well Jones performs in the pre-season, there is next to no chance the Leafs will run the risk of trying to get Joseph Woll through waivers.
“Right now, I’m a Toronto Maple Leaf and just trying to play as well as I can here,” Jones said after the game in Montreal on Saturday. “I’m not really even trying to think about (the possibility of eventually being claimed). I’m just trying to stay focused on the task at hand here.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning could be a possibility, as it will require goaltending help with Andrei Vasilevskiy recovering from back surgery for at least the next two months.
The Leafs knew when they signed Jones to a one-year, $875,000 contract in August that there would be a chance he could be lost on waivers. We’re not there yet, of course, and the Leafs are hopeful they will be able to hang on to Jones.
“Any time I have interacted with him, he has come with a good positive attitude,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He is a professional and I think he recognizes the situation he is in and is just going to control what he can. I think he has done a good job of that.”
Keefe was pleased that the Leafs’ young group of forwards not only persevered through back-to-back games in Montreal but were key in a couple of Toronto victories.
Four — Nick Abruzzese, Matthew Knies, Nick Robertson and Fraser Minten — played in both games, while Easton Cowan had another strong outing on Saturday.
“They were outstanding again,” Keefe said. “It was a big challenge with the competition on the other side and I was thrilled with what we got from them.”
While all have turned heads in a positive way, Minten has continuously shown that the start of his NHL career is not far off. Keefe acknowledged he sees several pro-ready traits in Minten.
“It’s a long list, quite honestly,” Keefe said. “He is — it’s the old cliche — mature beyond his years. Not just how he plays, but on the bench he is the most talkative guy, not a lot of fluff in what he is saying. He is directing traffic. He is coaching in a lot of ways.
“He is engaged in the game. His leadership qualities are what really stand out. Then he gets on the ice, he competes, he is in the right spots and he can make a play.
“From what I’ve seen, his development from last year to now has been remarkable.”
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Through NHL pre-season games on Saturday, Robertson had the most shots on goal with 19. After scoring on Saturday, there was some relief. “It’s great, definitely some pressure off my back to finally get one,” Robertson said. “I feel like I was close to getting some every game. I have been getting confidence each game. I know the boys are encouraging me, so hopefully I can just continue that.” Said Keefe: “He is a goal scorer. As much as you can tell him he is playing well and you are encouraged by his play, he wants to see it go in.” … The club had a full day off on Sunday, so there was no official word on the status of defenceman Conor Timmins, who underwent an MRI test on Saturday for a lower-body injury. An update should be forthcoming on Monday morning.